“Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties. Cases in the series can be found by issue and by judge at this link.
In January 2020, Trump Sixth Circuit judge Chad Readler dissented in a sex discrimination case in which the district court denied the plaintiff’s requests for discovery against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The majority found in favor of the plaintiff in Jones v. Johnson.
Kyisha Jones was an employee at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) who held positions of increased responsibility during her years-long tenure. In 2011, she applied for a supervisory position. Two rounds of promotions took place that year, but she was not promoted in either round. One of Jones’ male colleagues in a similar position was promoted that year. Two other male colleagues, who worked on the team she was chosen to lead above five other Customs of Bureau Protection officers, were also promoted.
Jones’ supervisor claimed that she was not promoted because she was suspended in 2007 for failure to follow orders and she has difficulty with supervisors. But her male colleague that received the promotion was suspended for similar reasons. Outside of her one suspension, she continued to receive stellar performance evaluations. Additionally, her supervisor had no firsthand knowledge of Jones’ interactions with other supervisors in the office and could not name one with whom she had difficulties.
In 2014, Jones sued in district court for sex discrimination. DHS moved for summary judgment to dismiss the case. Jones filed for a stay and made multiple discovery requests. The district court either denied her requests to depose witnesses or limited the scope of personnel records and DHS suspension-related policies and procedures that she was able to collect to support her claim of being as qualified or more qualified than the men who were promoted.
The district court then ruled in favor of DHS, concluding that the information Jones sought to obtain was irrelevant and that she failed to prove that not being promoted was because of her gender. Jones appealed to the Sixth Circuit.
The majority reversed the district court’s decision, explaining that Jones had a plausible claim of sex discrimination and that the district court abused its discretion by limiting Jones’ discovery requests.
Judge Chad Readler dissented, asserting that district courts are afforded discretion and have control over how discovery takes place and that the court was within its discretion to deny or limit Jones’ discovery requests.